After some debate about putting the $680,000 earmarked for the schools into a reserve account to await more assurances about the sustainability of the 5-school plan, the Finance Committee finally voted tonight to approve the school budget by a vote of 2-1. The vote sends the budget to the full Council for a vote tomorrow night. Council President Tim Flaherty and Councilor Judith Cronin voted in favor.
The reserve account idea was first suggested by City Financial Analyst Kathy Griffin earlier in the week, and was taken up and supported by Finance Committee Chairman Don Martin. Martin also was the lone vote against approving the budget, saying he objected to the transfer of funds.
The reserve idea was objected to strongly by Wes Slate and Pat Grimes, with Grimes stating "We can't keep pulling the rug out from under people in this city time and time again." Slate spoke of the teachers, students, and a principal that have all left the system already because of the chaos and uncertainty, and asked what more could we possibly know in two or three months that could provide any more definite guarantee of sustainability than we have now.
Mayor Scanlon also objected to the idea, saying it was time to end the uncertainty for this year. Scanlon continued to say, however, that while he believes this funding source is sustainable for a few years, that "the overall school budget has many, many problems that have to be dealt with," and "there are going to have to be further changes that we haven't even contemplated."
Despite the continued concern about sustainability, the Committee earlier in the evening voted 2-1 to recommend that the trash fee be reduced from $100 to $80 per year. Tim Flaherty introdcued the motion, and was joined by Don Martin in voting support for it.
The third voting member, Judith Cronin, descented, saying that after just closing one school, and with all the questions regarding the sustainability and general worries about continuing budget gaps outlined in the 5-year forecast, that this was not the time to be "taking away a revenue stream."
Later, during the school budget debate, Cronin spoke of the irony of councilors worrying again about sustainability, after just voting for something that would make it that much more difficult to achieve.
While the trash fee vote has no bearing on how the full Council will vote on this tomorrow night, it was clear from comments by the other non-voting members that John Burke would also support this measure, having suggested that it be reduced further. Councilors Grimes, Hobin and Coughlin all seemed to side with Cronin against the reduction; Wes Slate made no comment on the matter, and Maureen Troubetaris was absent.
The $20 per year reduction amounts to less than 40 cents per week per household, but takes $250,000 of revenue away from the city annually. While the trash fee level has no immediate bearing on the $680,000 transfer to the schools this year, it does make the long-term sustainability of that money that much more in doubt.
Mayor Scanlon said his figures, and his views on the plan's sustainability, were based on continuing the $100 fee.
The full City Council will have the final say on all of this tomorrow night at 7:00
6/26 UPDATE: Thursday's Salem News has the story.
12:15 pm UPDATE: The Citizen has just posted it's take on the meeting, saying that the move on the trash fee "may endanger Mayor Bill Scanlon’s plan to finance a fifth elementary school" and quotes City Finance Director John Dunn, as saying that money would need to be replaced:
Finance Director John Dunn said afterwards that if the full City Council were to approve the trash-fee reduction, another $250,000 would have to be used from an existing surplus in the trash fund.
Scanlon’s school plan counts on that surplus to fund trash removal and keep money in the general fund to pay for an additional $680,000 in funding for the schools. The plan would allow five elementary schools to remain open for the next five years.
From our reading of the Council members' views, the trash fee issue seems to be in the hands of Wes Slate and Maureen Troubetaris, as the others made their opinions known last night (see above.)
One other note: Mayor Scanlon continued his drive to distance himself from ownership of the current school plan last night, saying that while the plan has been attributed to him, it really was brought up by three School Committee members and was not "his" plan. Here is how we remember it.
4:30 pm UPDATE: The Heard in Beverly Blog adds a few more details.